An Interview with Bruce Broughton by Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.17/No.66/1998
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Randall D. Larson
When New Line Cinema determined to make a big screen version of the popular ‘60s TV show, LOST IN SPACE, they originally looked to John Williams as a likely candidate to score it. Williams, after all, had scored the original series and composed its memorable theme. When Williams proved not to be available, Jerry Goldsmith was signed until a schedule change forced him to pull out of the project. David Newman and Mark Isham were then considered until the assignment finally fell on Bruce Broughton. Broughton, having composed such notable broad scores as THE BLUE AND THE GRAY, SILVERADO, YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and TOMBSTONE – not to mention several equally affective scores on the other end of the scale, CARRIED AWAY, HOMEWARD BOUND, INFINITY – proved capable to the task, turning in a full-blown orchestral score in a mind boggling 3-week schedule.
How did you become involved with LOST IN SPACE?
My name got thrown into it somehow. They wanted to hear a demo to one of the scenes, so I did a demo. I know Mark Isham did a similar thing, so I don’t know whether it was just Demo City or what. However it happened, I eventually got it.
What time frame did you have at that point to get it all finished?
At that point I had two and a half weeks, but it eventually became three weeks. They had enormous scheduling problems because they had a release date that was pretty well set in cement because a lot of the merchandise was tied in to it, and they weren’t able to push it back much further. And because of all the CGI effects, it was basically terror from all sides!
You’re a composer who’s known for writing every note by yourself. How did you humanly accomplish the task in such a short time frame?
I had several guys helping with orchestration. That was weird, because I’ve never really had to do that. I’m used to looking at the note and knowing that such-and-such an instrument’s going to play it and it will sound like this. As it turned out, everything was written and rewritten and being changed and modified. The picture was changing up until the final dub. They were making changes literally up to the last minute until they couldn’t make any more changes. So things like the length of scenes and the dynamic level were always being changed.
Now, before you got involved in the process, were you at all aware of the John Williams work for the TV series? Was that approach ever a consideration during the process?
I never used to watch the TV show. I think I’ve just seen it once or twice. We had a conversation about the John Williams theme, and it was never an issue. The film didn’t come saddled with this theme. I know John was the first person Steve Hopkins talked to, and John passed on it for whatever reason. After that point, there was really no real interest in using the theme except to have a song done. And actually, I think that’s appropriate, because the movie is substantially different from the TV shows.
When you came on board, what was your approach on scoring the film? What sort of feel did you get for it?
My approach was to get it done! I really didn’t spend a lot of time searching out ideas or working on a theme or laying out how this or that character was going to be done. It was just a matter of trying to get the thing finished! The one thing I had in mind was that it’s a big, big space picture with people in jeopardy of the most enormous sort, so there’s no use to be shy about it.
What kind of thematic interplay have you used in this score?
In spite of what I’ve read to the contrary, there’s a huge theme that goes all the way through the picture, playing in an enormous amount of situations. It’s the basis for practically all the cues – it plays happy, sad, romantic, desperate, tragic, there’s tons of variations on this theme.
It’s not a kind of stand-out, in-your-face theme like STAR WARS or JAWS or something like that, but it’s a real useful theme to base your material on. The score relies primarily on that one major theme. The only other theme is a little theme for Dr. Smith.
The reason there are only two themes in the film is because the Smith character is one of the only characters who really stands apart from the family. It’s the good guys versus Dr. Smith! The Smith character, without the music, was actually much more evil than we wanted to draw him.
Randall D. Larson: How would you describe the instrumentation you used on the score?
Bruce Broughton: Basically, it’s a large orchestra amplified by electronic sounds. The synth stuff is not for mass, it’s for color.
How much music did you compose altogether?
I think it’s about 83 minutes.
How closely were you able to work with director Stephen Hopkins, given the time crunch you had to contend with?
Very. He is a tenacious guy. I thought that everybody was nuts because they wouldn’t stay away from him, but I wanted to keep off of him because there was just no time to get this stuff written, much less time to do show and tell. But Stephen wasn’t going to be put off by that! He would come over to the house, and every couple of days we’d go through it. For the most part, it really wasn’t a bad process at all. I really don’t have any complaints. I think the biggest complaint I would have, if I had to whine about something, would be that I had so little time. If there had been another week it would have been easier to do stuff a little more controlled. But, having said that, we had a lot of dialog, 2 or 3 times a week. One time he got off a plane coming from London and came right from the airport to my house, sat there, and listened to the stuff. He was going back and forth. He was very consistent in whatever he wanted, and I found that many comments he made at the house, unlike some directors, were consistent throughout the scoring process. If he wanted to change something I couldn’t make the changes in a timely fashion right then because I’d have to keep writing the cues, so I would address the change when we got to the scoring session. And sometimes it was a matter of minor fiddling with this or that, but mostly the rewriting was because they just changed the whole goddamn picture! They had moved this scene here, moved that scene there.
For instance, the big battle scene that opens the picture – there was one version where it wasn’t in the picture at all. The opening of the picture went through a lot of changes – I didn’t know which change they were going to use until I saw the picture in the theater! There was a prologue that was scored. I never knew until I saw the final edit where the words “Lost in Space” actually appeared on the screen. There was never a set idea where the main title was going to be until the last minute. And, in everybody’s defense, if they need defending, the picture was going through so much change, because of the special effects; they really couldn’t say where this was going to be or where that was going to be, until the effects came in. Some of the effects had to be dumped because they couldn’t get them in time, so you’d get rid of this effect and that would have an impact on this or that scene. This picture went through a lot of changes.
What kind of temp track did the film have and how did it affect your scoring process?
It obviously affected me not at all because I cannot remember what it was! There was a temp ~ track, but I didn’t pay any attention to that.
In general, do you find temp tracks helpful or detrimental?
Sometimes they’re helpful. I know many composers say, “I hate temp tracks because they never give me a chance to express my full intuitive yadda-yadda-yadda…” and the other guys, if they’re truthful, will say, “Actually, temp tracks are very helpful because it gives me an idea of what the director or the editor on this picture are intending.” Knowing that they’re going to live with this for 3 or 4 months and they’re going to fall in love with it, I have to acknowledge the fact that if I do something completely different; I’m going to run the risk of being in deep doo-doo! I’m not saying that there’s always a tendency to copy the temp track, but it is definitely an element that you have to pay attention to, and it does sometimes give you information.
I’ve been in situations with directors and I’ve looked at their temp track and I say to them, “I hate your temp track because it works great! And I know that’s what you’re going to wants.” And sometimes they do work great, for this scene or that scene. They’re not good for a whole movie, but they do give you information. Often a director will say, “Now this isn’t the right piece of music but I like what it does here, I like how it plays this character, I like how it gives this feeling,” so you look at it, and think, “Oh, I see, he wants to get this out of the scene or express this. Okay, I’m not going to do it like that but I know what he wants.”
It’s a way that the director can at least communicate a feeling that he’s looking for something that he can’t convey in musical terms.
Yeah. And it’s a valid way of doing it. It’s certainly been abused, but if you use it as a tool it can be helpful.
How did the fact that not all of the optical and sound effects were done when you were scoring affect you?
I think the scenes were fairly clear as to what they were about. I had a couple of surprises, but as I worked on the film, even in that two or three weeks, every time I could get a new version of it there were new effects in it. So I was constantly seeing the film grow and grow. When I first saw the film it was a mess, but two or three weeks later it was looking pretty good. I slightly got overwhelmed by how loud the sound effects were, and I was surprised – and not happily so – to find out what the final mix ended up being. But, again, I was given warning; I was told that he wanted a lot of loud effects. There was nothing that he didn’t warn me about.
Now that it’s done, and you’ve had a chance to see the final, finished product, what’s most satisfying to you about the score?
I like the score. In fact there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to get a whole score album out, which will sort of redeem the way the first album came out. Because there was no time, the album was thrown together – to the record company’s credit – in an incredibly short amount of time. But the pieces that were on there weren’t my choices and don’t play the way that I think would represent what the score actually was.
I was glad to see you returning to a big sound in your music. You started out blowing my socks off many years ago with THE BLUE AND THE GRAY and SILVERADO, and then you moved into some more intimate films. You did a fine job on those too, but I missed some of that very dramatic sense that impressed me initially.
There’s two things. One, if they don’t play the music loud, you can’t hear the score. On a picture like SILVERADO, YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE BLUE AND THE GRAY, TOMBSTONE – which have been the scores that people like the most of mine – you can really hear the score. There are a lot of other films where I think the scores were fine, too, but you can’t hear them. And if you can’t hear them, and if there’s no album to it, the music gets lost.
The other thing is that it’s become the style over the last several years not having music say much, to want to have music way in the background. I hear everybody – and I mean everybody – write this boring, dull, lifeless music because they know if they do any more the director’s going to say “Hey! You’re taking over my scene! Don’t do that!” So you’re asked to write things that don’t express anything – I had one director say to me, “I don’t want the music to say anything”. I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, I want this to be a smart movie. If they can’t figure out the scene I don’t want the music to help them!”
That’s like, “Why am I here??!”
Exactly. I looked at his film and I said “Why am I here? Why is it me?” But on LOST IN SPACE, there was never any problem with that. It was a big score, everybody knew it was going to be a big score; it was going to be rowdy, wild, and emotional.
You seem to be fairly well-represented in the soundtrack arena…
Thanks to Doug Fake!
Exactly. Many of the smaller scores that you’ve done that may not have been that noticeable in the film have at least been preserved on CD by Intrada. What are the chances of something like YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES or THE BLUE AND THE GRAY ever appearing on CD?
I don’t know what to do with YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES. It took a long time to get SILVERADO released because Geffen just wouldn’t give it up. I don’t know what the deal is with YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES. We talked about it a lot, and Doug’s made some bids on it but it just has not happened.
THE BLUE AND THE GRAY will be more of a problem, because that was recorded here in the States so there’s an enormous cost to release it. Every once in a while somebody talks about doing a BLUE AND THE GRAY album, but it would have to be re-recorded. A couple of years ago in Germany, a BEST OF THE WESTERN album included several BLUE AND THE GRAY cues on it. They had copied the music with a lot of mistakes, and when I heard the CD I thought “Oh, God! There are chords in there I never heard before!” There are some other old ones. What I look for, myself, is to have as many soundtracks as possible that represent the different kinds of things I’ve done. CARRIED AWAY as opposed to SILVERADO as opposed to HONEY I BLEW UP THE KID. If you took those three albums I’m not sure that you’d think they were written by the same guy. I like being able to have those things out that represent different styles.
I understand you’ve composed the music for a CD-ROM game?
Yeah, it’s called HEART OF DARKNESS. I scored that about two years ago. The game hasn’t been released yet, but I expect it will be out within several months’ time. There’s about 30 minutes of score. I don’t know what the state of the art is now, but at that time it was the first CD-ROM game to have an orchestral score.
How do you go about scoring a game? How similar is it to scoring a movie?
It’s essentially an animation score. They were just bonkers about the score to THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER. In the game they have rather extensive computer animation, for which they wanted to have a score as good as they could get. They called me and asked if I’d be interested in it and I said, “Yeah, sure.” Unfortunately it hasn’t hit the stores yet. It will, and there’s a really good chance for an album.